Mac at 3 months: Thumbs up at work, but not quite ready for home switch

I've had more than three months now to use my new Mac at work on a daily basis, and the verdict is in: I'm glad I switched.

However, as much as I'm enjoying my machine in the office, I'm not quite ready to ditch Windows and go OS X at home.

Yet.

The good news: Apple's Leopard OS is stable and well designed (except for the continued annoyance of sitting an application menu's bar at the very top of the screen instead of atop the app window, particularly irritating if you use a large monitor).

I love having simple shell access to Perl and Ruby, as well as AppleScript for automating basic routine tasks -- all without having to install anything extra.

So far the boot-up remains quick, unlike my Windows desktop at home, which has noticeably slowed since last autumn (although to be fair, I'm still on ancient XP).

Last month I went on the road with my new MacBook, and things went flawlessly. It was easy to sign onto new wireless networks, and I liked the capability to set up my networking so that Wi-Fi is automatically turned off if I'm using an Ethernet connection.

There are plenty of free or low-cost alternatives to most of the software I need (and used on my Windows machine).  I do need to run Parallels with Windows XP on my Mac in the office so I can check an analytics plug-in that only seems to run on Internet Explorer on Windows. Omniture claims that its SiteCatalyst ClickMap will run on Firefox on Mac OS X, but it won't install on my system.

I'm pretty happy with TextWrangler as a basic text editor, although am about to look at the more robust paid version, BBedit, as well as test drive highly recommended TextMate.

Fortunately, ActiveState's licensing for Komodo let me download and install a Mac version of their IDE for my new MacBook now that I'm not using the Windows version anymore.

However, that's not the case with most software. Usually, switching operating systems would mean shelling out money for new versions of programs I already bought once. And that's not a trivial problem if I don't want to spend all my time on the Mac running Windows anyway.

For example, if I made the switch at home, I'd have to purchase a new version of Adobe Photoshop Elements -- kind of annoying, considering I already have not one but two Windows versions (Elements 5 and 7).

And to make things worse, I'd have to pony up to buy an older version: Adobe is up to Elements 7 on Windows but still at 6 for the Mac. To add to the injustice: Adobe is selling Elements 6 for the Mac for $89.99 direct while I just got an e-mail that the newer Elements 7 for Windows is currently on sale for $59.99.

I'd also have to buy a Mac version of Microsoft Office. I know there are open-source alternatives, but what can I say? I remain an Excel fan, and Word still feels like a must-have.

That's on top of the hardware costs. For all the discussion about whether equivalent Mac hardware is more expensive than Wintel alternatives (Harry McCracken did a nice analysis questioning that Microsoft meme), it's fair to say that Apple doesn't have the breadth of low-cost laptop alternatives you can find elsewhere.

And then there are the periphals! I was going to buy a second power cord for my MacBook so I wouldn't have to keep crawling under my desk to unplug it to  carry the cord home. Until I saw the price: $79! Sure, it's cool with its magnetic attachment and glowing green light, but for 80 bucks I'll keep fetching the current one from under my desk, thanks. My old IBM Thinkpad used a cord we already had at home for a Dell machine, since many Wintel peripherals are interchangable.

I'm not in the market for a new home desktop system anytime soon anyway, but could  use a laptop. If I were buying now, though, I don't think I'd want to shell out $1,299 for an up-to-date 13-inch aluminum laptop (cheaper would be a $999 old white one, but if I'm finallly upgrading, I would like a reasonably new model) when there are robust, full-featured Wintel notebooks (not netbooks) for hundreds less. Along with the software costs, that's a fairly hefty extra cost to enjoy a sleek OS and nifty scripting. Plus, I want to take a look at Windows 7 before deciding if I want to change OSes completely.

So for now I'm living in both camps: Mac at work, Windows at home, not sure if I want to make a total switch to OS X. Which may not sound like much of a commitment; but six months ago, I never would have guessed I'd be using a Mac at all.

See more in my Mac at work series.

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